Jan 25, 2012

Clean "Talk," Dirty Reviews

The post-Tina Brown New Yorker has not been known for its squeamishness (am I the only one who vividly remembers the awkward shock of that hilariously severe Tilda Swinton nude photo spread of nearly 20 years ago?), so I was shocked in reverse to see the way a recent Talk of the Town handled Rick Santorum's infamous "Google problem":
“If Rick Santorum wants to invite himself into the bedrooms of gays and lesbians (and their dogs), I say we ‘include’ him in our sex lives—by naming a gay sex act after him.” [Dan] Savage, who has a long history as a bigot-baiter and civil libertarian (he started the “It Gets Better” project), pounced on the idea. He announced a contest, and readers wrote in with suggestions: “How about calling condoms ‘Ricks’?” In the end, Savage’s readers came up with an unprintable definition. If you have not yet Googled “Santorum,” take a deep breath first.
Readers at risk of hyperventilating over the finer points of sodomy got no such warning when they cast their eyes across Hilton Als' recent review of Thomas Bradshaw's Burning, which featured an extensive, hard-to-miss script excerpt about the distinctive pleasures of anal sex with black women, or when they surveyed John Lahr's exceptionally hostile review of The Book of Mormon, in which he seemed to take special delight in verbatim quotes of the show's most shocking language, including a script excerpt that begins with the immortal line of the Ugandan mission's show-within-the-show, "My name is Joseph Smit’. I’m going to fuck this baby."

I know every double standard cuts both ways; am I saying I'd rather have the New Yorker be more consistently filthy? Not necessarily. But this contrast between the demure smirk at the front of the book and the no-holds-barred frankness of the boys in the back pages is striking. Interesting, too, that this transgressive impulse seems to be the exclusive provenance of the magazine's theater critics; I don't recall Alex Ross or Anthony Lane or Peter Schjeldahl cutting loose like this, even in quotation. To each section its own rules, I guess—and it may be true, to mangle a conservative shibboleth, that when it comes to criticism an editorial policy governs best that governs the least.

No comments: